Wildlife officials have warned about the dangers of feeding and interacting with bears after a pair of visitors were seen petting one of the animals just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The two people were spotted at Quality Inn Creekside in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, holding their hands out and stroking a black bear. Another hotel guest, Misty Chrismon, captured the incident and shared the photos (shown below) on social media.
"This is why bears get killed," Chrismon said, "I can’t believe she did this. We had to tell her to stop over and over again.
Photo of two people attempting to pet a bear in Gatlinburg shows exactly what NOT to do. https://t.co/IS0d2fwFlvAugust 2, 2022
There are laws against approaching bears within the National Park itself, and officials have established a buffer zone within a six square mile area of Gatlinburg where people are explicitly prohibited from leaving food or trash in a way that will attract the animals, but the hotel lies beyond this boundary.
"The overwhelming desire to have a close encounter with a black bear is strangely more powerful than common sense," wildlife officer Sgt David Sexton told WSMV. "Many people intentionally feed bears with little regard for the dire consequences to the bears and humans they leave behind."
Feeding and interacting with wild animals doesn't just put people at risk, it also endangers the animals themselves. Over time, creatures can become food conditioned, meaning they see humans and their settlements as a source of resources, or habituated, meaning they lose their natural wariness.
Both of these situations mean encounters with humans are more likely, and if an animal feels threatened and attacks a person, it's likely to be euthanized for the safety of the public.
- What to do if you meet a bear: a guide to wildlife safety
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).